I prepared to eat lunch as Build Business wrapped up in Orlando. Then I noticed a message waiting on my battered IPhone (which I had dropped more than one too many times).
The message: The president of an association for which we had just produced a 28-page annual magazine called to complain. “I never received a proof of this publication, like you promised you would send,” she said. “Now I see you are running an ad for a direct competitor on a page where I’m appearing. This is the second time you’ve done this to me.”
Gulp. We had signed off on the final pre-production printing proofs. Maybe the publication was on the press as I attended conference sessions the day before. Maybe it had been printed. Regardless, we faced the prospect of very high re-plating charges.
Add to the problems: My phone, in its last legs, really would not respond to the touch-screen instructions to redial her number. As well, our ISP host had a system-wide service problem, resulting in the loss of all of our company’s email capacity. Additionally, adding to the fun, I was in Orlando, far away from staff and contractors.
Yet I still somehow reached the client, and quickly understood her anger. About a year ago, we had produced a special feature about her business and accepted (inadvertently to us, but extremely emotionally relevant to her) an ad from an organization she had no desire to have anything to see “supporting” her company. (I’m disguising details here, out of respect for confidentiality.)
In that situation, we experienced the challenge of pre-production review, where we only locate the ads on page layouts just before printing. Each ad is approved and signed off by the advertiser through individual proofs, but the association president, while she saw her overall editorial profile, did not know the advertisers’ specifics until we had printed the story.
We were too late to stop the problem that time, and after she calmed down, I showed her that few would notice or care about the inappropriate ad, and we would make sure to send her complete and reasonably clear layouts of both advertising and editorial before proceeding future profiles of her business.
Then, yesterday . . . We had sent the story text to the association president for review, but (foolishly, probably), I only followed up with page layouts for review through the organization’s chief administrator. Again, we placed ads in the last minute, and neither I nor anyone in my organization (and presumably the association representative we asked to review the publication), could see the potential problem. When the association president saw, belatedly, the page proofs, she went ballistic.
Now I had an extremely angry (and betrayed) client on my hands, in an environment with extremely poor communications, and with the possibility that we would incur very high change fee costs for something that, if you looked beyond the emotions, didn’t matter that much. (In this context, the story is editorial rather than advertorial, so ad placement should not be an issue. In any case, I doubt anyone other than her would really notice that the ad didn’t belong there.)
I explained to the association leader that I understood her concerns and it may be too late to fix things. We wouldn’t be able to throw away the entire press run if we had printed the magazine. However, I told her I would see if we could reach the printers, stop the press, and I would be prepared to pay potentially high (in the hundreds of dollars) re-plating fees. I also told her I had real difficulties in phone and Internet communications but would communicate with her as soon as we knew the situation.
Now, emotions took over as I sought to solve the problem. I decided then that I would replace my IPhone with one of the new Android-powered (and much less expensive) smartphones, thankful that I had avoided a fixed contract with my cellular carrier. I managed to dig up the phone number of our printer’s sales representative, and somehow through a convoluted process found a way to dial out to his number.
And something went right. The rep answered.
Like me, he was not in a spot with good communications. The mechanics of the actual printing and production process were outside his job scope (he is a sales rep, not a production manager). However he said he would do what he could. I asked him to communicate with our company’s designer because of poor communications at my end.
I then reached our long-standing freelance designer, who quickly realized the problem and said a change would be quite easy at his end. He agreed to carry forward with the printers because of my inability to communicate.
Then I had my lunch.
With email service restored, I saw a brief note from the printer’s sales rep. “Printing on hold. You are okay.”
I called the client to share the news.
“I hope this didn’t cost you a lot of money,” she said. I told her: “Frankly, I don’t know the exact cost, and while it will be significant, it doesn’t matter. We need to get this right for you, and I’m satisfied that it will be done properly.” She thanked me.
Later in the day, with truly intermittent communication (compounded by the fact that I was heading to the airport, and had several hours of flying ahead of me), I could see the communications between our designer, the printer’s production department and its sales representative, as everyone co-ordinated the changes in my absence. There was some glitch in the revised proofs, but they resolved the problem.
I wish I could say I created a wonderful client-service after-glow here. But things aren’t that perfect. I accept responsibility for screwing up with an influential client on a truly valuable project. But I also saw what went right, and what went wrong.
Brand destruction (from experience)
My IPhone has lost its glitter, totally. Sure, I, not Apple, dropped it on a hard surface, and sturdy protective cases are available, but I certainly didn’t have one when the drop occurred. (Same for my IPad.) Smartphones are now commodities, in my opinion, and unless someone can show me why the Apple-branded product is much better than one powered with the Android system, I’m switching. (And, yes, Google has won some brand loyalty from me; after all I’m one of their help forum Top Contributors, and am looking forward to an all-expenses paid trip to California this fall. Nothing like buying loyalty!)
Getting it right
The printer’s sales representative and our freelance designer got it right, 100 per cent. They quickly understood the problem, my communications challenges, and why this matter deserved urgency. They took charge of things on the eve of a holiday weekend. They made it right. They earned my continuing loyalty and respect.
No bragging here. I screwed up initially and could have left a really good customer in the lurch — but I was still able to call her, reassure her that all is right, and (in accepting responsibility) made it clear to her that I didn’t even care to ask how much it would cost to make things right. We did.
Have you had similar experiences? Did you form branding conclusions and perceptions in a crisis? One Build Business theme is the importance of storytelling in marketing. I think this is a worthy story. Do you have your own to share?